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Chester County Press

Township may soon back out of delayed land easement deal

05/17/2016 01:21PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

On Feb, 23, 2015, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to enter into negotiations to purchase the 178-acre Green Valley Farm in the township for $2.3 million, for the purpose of placing a conservation easement on it.
More than 15 months later, the deal has yet to be finalized, a delay that has prompted a few township officials to express concern that the township is committing big bucks to an agreement that has become known more for its tardiness than its potential.
At the board's meeting on May 16, supervisor Pat Little – the most vocal opponent of the Green Valley Farm easement – requested that the board enter into a motion to reconsider the easement deal, at its next meeting on June 20. The board agreed to the motion.
The site is currently owned in part by former supervisor Warren Reynolds, who began discussions with the township's Open Space Review Board three years ago, for the purpose of preserving the land in perpetuity. 
Little first suggested this motion at the board's Jan. 19 meeting, but withdrew the motion after Tom Johnson and George Elser, attorneys representing the Reynolds family, spent 45 minutes explaining the reasons for the delay, and telling the supervisors that a final agreement would be reached by the end of February.
Johnson called the negotiation for the easement “a complicated process,” due mainly to the fact that the property is owned by Reynolds, a guardianship for his brother, and by two trusts, with different beneficiaries. The process is further complicated by Reynolds currently serving a state prison sentence for the possession of more than 500 images of child pornography.
“They (the attorneys for the Reynolds family) met with us in January and said it would be done by February or March,” Little said at the May 16 meeting. “I have worked very closely with (Township Solicitor Vince Pompo) on this, and he finally agreed with me to proceed, because we don't have an idea of what's going on, or know how long this is going to go. This is a business decision.”
The property, eight contiguous parcels, is located north of Route 41 and is bordered by Penn Green Road on its western edge, Old Baltimore Pike on its northern border, and the area behind the commercial and residential development along Newark Road, on its eastern edge. It offers more than 30 acres of mature woodland, large ponds, streams, existing paths and scenic vistas which can be seen from Penn Green Road. It contains the former site of a dairy farm, and an historic home built in 1740, which has been in the Reynolds family since 1904.
The acquisition of the property is scheduled to be paid for out of the township's Open Space Fund, the account balance of which stands at $2.27 million, and annually generates about $400,000 in revenue. The initial payment will comprise 37 percent of the total cost for the easement, which will be followed by the remaining 63 percent of the total cost, which will be paid in equal installments over the next three years.
In other township business, the supervisors gave approval to enter the township into a conservation easement agreement on a 23-acre parcel on 480 Church Road, pending approval by the current land owners. The property, located on the western edge of the township, is situated in the vicinity of the Brandywine Polo fields and Green Willow Orchards.
Estimated at $6,813 per acre, the total cost to the township to place an easement on the property will be $156,699, and the majority of funding would come from the the township's Open Space budget, as well as funding from the National Park Service, the White Clay Creek Wild & Scenic, and the Chester County Preservation partnership Program.
A presentation by Open Space Review Board members Stan Lukoff, Randy Lieberman and Chris Robinson promoted the site as a property rich in farmland vistas, wetlands, woodlands and trails. Its waterways link to the eastern branch of the White Clay Creek watershed. Lieberman said that the property also has a strong historical connection to the artist Thomas Eakins, and still contains the remnants of a building where he lived for a time.
“It's a beautifully maintained property,” Lieberman said. “The quality and the diversity it offers are more significant than most properties in the area.”
Lukoff said that the acquisition of easements adds conservation value to the township's environmental and ecological infrastructure, and has very little impact on township services, such as public works, sewer and police service.
“When we preserve properties, there's less of a strain on the ecosystem,” he said. “The preservation of farms is very important and part of our scope. There is a lot of agriculture in this township, and we want to continue to preserve as much as we can.”
The township would like to have the agreement signed by June 30, and settlement reached by Sept. 15.
New Garden Flying Field Manager Jon Martin updated the supervisors on current construction projects at the flying field, as well as a summary of the events that will be held there this year. The reconstruction of the East Hangar is due to be completed by the end of May; the flying field's primary surface runway is scheduled to be completed in September; and several obstructive trees have been removed along the runway.
Martin said that the flying field is gearing up for yet another busy spring and summer, kicking off with “Fly the Ford” from June 9-12, which will feature rides on the classic aircraft, the Ford Trimotor 2; the eighth annual Future Aviators Summer Camp, from July 11-15 and Aug. 8-12; the Chester County Balloon Festival on June 24-26; and the Annual Festival of Flight Air and Car Show on Aug. 20-21, which will feature a 5K race, with all profits from the race targeted toward youth organizations in the township, and in Kennett Square Borough. The board voted to permit wine and beer to be served at the event this year.
The board also named Jim DiLuzio as the township representative to the Kennett Public Library board of directors.
At the start of the meeting, there was a moment of silence for long-time township activist Eugene Oates, who died on May 15 at the age of 83 at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville, TN, after a three-week illness.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.



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